Hitachi forges new prospects for Australian heavy engineering

Hitachi has been active in Australia for over 60 years, adding manufacturing and technology services to its sales network. The company believes that after 26 years of uninterrupted economic growth, Australia’s openness to new products and ideas is what makes it an attractive investment destination. Today, Hitachi Australia employs more than 1,900 workers across the mining, energy, transport, farming and technology sectors.

Investing in Australia’s advanced engineering capabilities

In March 2017, Hitachi crowned its six-decade history in Australia with the A$689 million purchase of Sydney-based, advanced-engineering manufacturer, Bradken. This represents the largest single investment by a major Japanese company in Australia’s engineering sector in recent times. It is also a testament to Australia’s expertise in advanced high-quality, low-volume manufacturing. Founded in 1922, Bradken is an advanced-engineering manufacturer that supplies capital products to mining, transport and general-industrial companies.

The investment represents a new strategic direction for Hitachi in Australia, and an opportunity for Bradken to expand globally. In partnership with Hitachi, Bradken’s track-replacement parts and mine crushing equipment will gain added exposure in overseas markets.

‘This is a major investment in a complementary area of manufacturing, with products that we can market through the Hitachi network,’ says Hitoshi Ishihara, former Managing Director, Hitachi Australia. ‘There is a natural fit between Hitachi Construction Machinery and Bradken’s mining, earthmoving and rail equipment, which we can leverage across our global value chain.’

Ground-breaking research in driverless tractors

At the opposite end of the industry spectrum, Hitachi is collaborating with Australian universities to develop and test satellite-based agribusiness technologies. The company is trialling driverless-tractor systems in Mackay, Queensland and Jerilderie, New South Wales that could change farming productivity. The satellite technology uses a ground-breaking Quasi Zenith Satellite System (QZSS) to enable tractors to operate autonomously regardless of mobile network coverage in rural areas.

‘We are delighted to be working with a team of experts from across Australia and Japan,’ says Anand Singh, Director of Operations, Hitachi Australia. ‘This project includes Australia-based partners such as CRCSI, RMIT in Melbourne, the University of New England, Hokkaido University, Hitachi Zosen and Osaka-based diesel-engine manufacturer, Yanmar. Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications provided the grant.’

The trial is evaluating the effectiveness of centimetre-level vehicle positioning from QZSS signals. If successful, it will unearth some of the techniques required for “precision agriculture” in Australia. This will allow driverless tractors to plough fields, sow seeds and harvest crops. In turn, this promises to increase farm-labour productivity and machinery use.

Social innovation

In December 2016, President and Chief Executive Office Toshiaki Higashihara announced Hitachi plans to invest A$1.25 billion in Australia to help enhance its presence within the social innovation business context. His objective: to integrate Hitachi’s IT and Operational Technology (OT) from its large and diverse engineering expertise for better social outcomes.

As a result, social innovation is now at the core of Hitachi’s global strategy. In 2016, Hitachi partnered with research firm, Frost and Sullivan, to identify and analyse the opportunities for social innovation in Australia. Hitachi has commented that social innovation objectives will be a key element in all new joint ventures or acquisitions. Today, Hitachi Australia employs more than 1,900 workers across Australia and New Zealand and its companies span Australia’s mining, energy, transport, farming and technology sectors.

‘Our focus is on creating new social value by combining existing assets with innovation and fresh ideas,’ says Ishihara. ‘Australia has many niche technologies – especially in mining and agriculture – and these technologies provide great prospects for adding value.’

Hitachi’s first foray into Australia started in Sydney over 60 years ago. Back then, Hitachi’s principal activity was supplying construction equipment and then core equipment for Australian power plants, including boilers and turbines. Over subsequent decades, Hitachi opened branches in every state.

Transportation is another sector in which Hitachi continues to play a significant through the provision of traction systems, control systems and more. As sales increased, so did Hitachi’s role in supplying spare parts and ancillary products. Today, these include the traction systems used in the Waratah-class trains operating across New South Wales and Queensland.

Looking to the future, Hitachi’s global expansion will help bring improvements to Australia’s rail network. The company’s 2015 purchase of Italian signalling company, Ansaldo, heralds the arrival of highly advanced signalling systems to Australia, combined with its own modern train management systems.

Building the Internet of Things in Australia

Digital technologies are a fast-growing sector for Hitachi. With a rapidly expanding headcount, Hitachi Data Systems Australia delivers enhanced data management, governance, mobility and analytics for organisations across Australia. Hitachi Consulting Australia provides opportunities for ambitious IT professionals to help bring new Internet of Things ideas to life.

With a stream of new technologies – from control and operations systems to monitoring and analysis – Hitachi in Australia is an active innovation partner for Australian companies that create connected digital solutions. In turn, these are helping improve the competitiveness of Australian businesses and service-delivery organisations. They expand revenue streams, increase efficiencies, enhance customer experiences and accelerate everyone’s time to market.